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I am currently a student planning on entering the job market in 2-3 years, and I'm looking into some online courses relevant to my interests. I don't expect my current experience (astrophysics) to be directly relevant to a future employer, so I'm hoping to familiarize myself with the buzzword techniques of the business world. Most importantly, I expect to signal this extra-academia preparation to future employers down the road.

Particularly in the case of this machine learning course -- for which one can opt into a $79 fee for a "trusted, shareable certificate" -- does the certificate of completion significantly increase one's chances of receiving an interview, as opposed to simply listing the course on a CV?

The answer probably varies by field and individual business, but I'd like to know if these paid certificates are generally regarded as trivial or even if the certificate would become unimportant due to it being ~2 years old at the time of application.


Update 2 years later: I graduated with a Ph.D. in astrophysics and applied exclusively for data scientist positions in the months after graduation. Employers asked about my independent learning but never asked for certifications. Once I received their coding tests, the details of my learning were irrelevant to them; I received an offer for the position of senior data scientist at a U.S. manufacturing company, and it is going great. Best of luck to anyone reading this because they are considering a similar transition!

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    I have yet to meet a company that takes those kinds of certificates seriously. Stating that you completed the courses is more than enough. But that's just my experience. – Stephan Bijzitter May 5 '17 at 20:18
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    Credentials, certifications, and stuff like that can't hurt your chances if they are current. But it's probably not a wise decision to get a cert (I'm guessing Coursera due to the cost) in a rapidly evolving field like ML that will be 2 years old by the time you get to show it off on a resume. Either get it closer to the time you will be entering the job market or get it now and plan on re-certifying yourself again right before going into the market. – dfundako May 5 '17 at 20:19
  • You have electives. Why not take machine learning courses? – paparazzo May 5 '17 at 21:52
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    what a gem you are to update this question! – bharal Feb 10 at 15:23
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    @bharal Thank whomever viewed it for the 1kth time, SE for notifying me, and paparazzo for intentionally inflaming my sense of impostor syndrome so I'd remember to reassure folks facing similar post-graduation crises. ;) – Sam Feb 10 at 17:15
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In my experience, no. I completed some courses on Coursera and simply listed the names of the courses that I had completed. Nobody asked for proof, and if they did I would tell them the truth - that I considered it a waste of money to pay $79 for a certificate after having learned everything in the course.

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  • I would have saved the HTML/made a screenshot of the "congrats, you passed" screen. Sure, it could be faked, but it's better than nothing. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Feb 11 at 6:00
  • Btw, is there a time limit on when you can pay this $79? I.e within X weeks of ending the course? Or can you just wait, and if an employer demands to see it, pay the $79 then? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Feb 11 at 6:00
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Coursera cracks me up with their sleight of hand with terminology. People talk about certifications and here's Coursera (or anyone else who does that) hawking a slightly different sounding product. It's not illegal but it's pretty close to snake oil.

What is a certificate?

a document attesting to the fact that a person has completed an educational course, issued either by an institution not authorized to grant diplomas, or to a student not qualifying for a diploma.

The problem with certificates is that they're only as good as a) the one issuing them and b) the prestige of having one. The simple fact is that anyone can issue a certificate. And because of that, they don't have any cachet or prestige. None.

What can have prestige is certifications. Certifications can be "just issued" but if you tell people that you have a certification that nobody respects, you'll get laughed at. Certifications from respected companies typically are based on test results and can often (though not always) demonstrate that you at least have a certain amount of knowledge in that area because they respect the company that issues it and the company doesn't want it to be just a useless piece of paper.

TL;DR: Save your money. List that you took them if you'd like but nobody's going to want to see certificates. It's better that you can demonstrate that you have the knowledge.

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Years ago, I listed Brainbench exam scores on my resume to make my skill level more obvious. The word "certificate" itself might be bogus, but if you can show numbers that demonstrate you've tested out in a high percentile of test-takers, I think it can go a long way for you. People like numbers.

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